Bowman County is moving ahead with turning the old Bowman Municipal Airport into an industrial park, which will then fall into city hands. The airport officially moved from the west side of town to the east in May.
If it pans out to the visions of the community leaders behind it, the project will invite more business into the community and serve to boost its overall commerce.
The person heading the industrial park’s development is Teran Doerr, the executive director of the Bowman County Development Corp.
“We’re excited about this project,” Doerr said. “It’s a huge asset for our community.”
She said it would join the new Southwest Healthcare Services hospital under construction in the city as a sign of the community’s growth and development.
Doerr said the idea came about as a result of the site already being surrounded by industrial activity. She also said the corporation wanted to develop it correctly as it serves as a sort of gateway to the community.
She also said the site has a lot of assets, including access to U.S. Highway 12 and the nearby railroad.
Doerr and Lyn James, the mayor of Bowman, said the total area of the site has altered in measurement over the time of its consideration, mainly due to some wetlands that are on the site. It is more than 200 acres, they said.
Doerr said the development corporation board approved of bringing it before the Bowman County Commission in late 2014, and the commissioners agreed to allow a feasibility study be done to the site. County Commissioner Rick Braaten said he and the rest of the commission initially saw the proposal as a viable possibility.
“At the time we thought it was a pretty good idea, and I guess we still do,” Braaten said.
Doerr said the county hired local firm Brosz Engineering and Williston-based Gilmore Planning for the study, where they assessed the land’s value and potential economic impact on the community.
The study also coincided with the availability of state surge funding, part of which the city allowed to be used toward the project.
“Once we had come to a conclusion, both commissions did decide to let the development corporation move forward on the project, and both contributed greatly to it,” Doerr said.
Braaten mentioned the wetlands on the property as being a potential asset, as the North Dakota Department of Transportation is looking at purchasing them.
“It could be a pretty good return for the county in that way,” he said.
Braaten said the county more or less donated the land to the development corporation, though he said it still technically needed to be released from the FAA by seeding grass in the space where the old runway was torn out before proceeding with the necessary paperwork.
Eventually, the property will be annexed by the city, but the development corporation will manage it and sell off the parcels to buyers.
“We’re open to anything that could be potentially oil- or ag-related,” Doerr said of those expected to buy buy the lots, though she added that they were looking at any opportunity with the goal of diversifying the local economy.
Doerr said light industry would be ideal, which wouldn’t have a negative impact on the neighboring residents.
It was with this in mind that the county commissioners requested a 300-foot buffer zone be drawn out, where trees could be planted to give the residential and industrial zones some more separation.
“You want to do planned development and make sure that it looks nice and that it appeals to the people looking at our community,” Doerr said.
If the transition from the FAA to the development corporation goes smoothly, Doerr said they could see the basic infrastructure of the industrial park being laid this summer.
There have been people that expressed both support and criticism of the project, Doerr said, but she added that it was an educational process in why the community leaders had chosen this route and how it will be funded.
James said the industrial park would add to the tax base, which would only grow as the lots are sold and developed. There would also come jobs and families, and overall more commerce would enter the community.
“It’s a forward-thinking project, no doubt,” James said.
Doerr emphasized that this would be a long-term investment for the community and that the industrial park wouldn’t fill up quickly.
James and Doerr said that, with the current downturn in the oil and agriculture industries, now is the time to take advantage of the less-hectic atmosphere and the contractors and resources available.
James said there have been businesses in the past that have expressed interest in Bowman, but the city didn’t have anything to offer them like they would with this.
Doerr said there have been other communities that were caught off guard by the oil boom and also missed business opportunities due to lack of preparedness.
Now, she said, it’s Bowman’s time to prepare for when things pick up again.
“If you’re not ready, you’re passed by,” Doerr said.